Shellhouse: The goal with them was clear

Published 12:02 am Thursday, March 15, 2012

Andalusia's girls basketball team finished this season as the Class 4A runner up. Here, they hoist the Class 4A Regional Title trophy in Mobile. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

After falling to UMS-Wright in the 2011 Class 4A South Regional semifinals, the Andalusia Lady Bulldogs set a goal to play for the state championship in 2012.

More than a year later, the girls accomplished that feat in a runner up finish to Jacksonville on March 3 at the BJCC Arena in Birmingham.

The Lady Bulldogs entered the 2011-12 season with the mind set of that “next year’s here. This was it,” girls coach Bennie Shellhouse said.

“The goal with them was clear last year at the end of the year going into the off season,” Shellhouse said.

Andalusia’s team started to play pick up ball at Johnson Park, LBWCC and other places to get ready for the season.

“Last year, the disappointment of losing to UMS down there (in Mobile) – I think at the point I thought we just didn’t prepare as well,” Shellhouse said. “This year, those girls have been prepared from the very beginning.”

Andalusia got off to a 2-2 start after suffering its second loss of the season to Class 6A’s Central-Phenix City, who would play in the Final Four, at the Enterprise Thanksgiving Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs would finish the season with a 30-3 record.

“That was a game that was a real gut-check for us,” Shellhouse said. “That game, we came out and they pressed us and we hadn’t been used to being pressed. When got down 25-4, we had to switch gears.

“For so long, we had been the team that was so aggressive, and we were playing a team that was more aggressive than us,” he said. “We had to switch gears and rethink what we were doing at that point.”

That change in mind-set led the Lady Bulldogs to a tough match up the following week with a good Opp Lady Bobcats team.

But first, AHS had to face Pleasant Home the night before.

From that victory over PHS, Andalusia started its 29-game winning streak.

“The night before (the Opp game), we started our two mottos (‘Killing Giants’ and ‘T.P.A.C.’),” Shellhouse said. “That was when we went on our winning streak.”

After defeating Luverne to win its fourth straight Red Level Christmas tournament title, Andalusia began area play in January, when the season really started for the team, Shellhouse said.

The Lady Bulldogs, with their win-streak in full gear, pummeled the area competition and met rival Straughn in the area championship game.

The Lady Tigers led 24-17 at half time, but AHS, with its full-court pressure and aggressive style of play, outscored SHS 42-11 in the second half to win 59-35.

Andalusia defeated St. James 58-31 in the South Sub Regional game at home, and entered the South Regional Tournament in Mobile, riding a 25-game win streak.

AHS faced Escambia County in the semifinals of the regional tournament, and from the start of the game, the Lady Bulldogs weren’t going to let 2011 repeat itself.

They went on a 13-0 run to start the game, and went on to beat the Lady Devils 65-42 to have a re-match with UMS-Wright in the regional finals.

UMS-Wright would fall prey to senior guard and leading scorer Alexis Horton with her 22 points and 10 steals as Andalusia won 41-35, the same score UMS fell to Brewbaker Tech the year before.

Entering the Final Four, Shellhouse said he knew he wasn’t going to make the same mistake he made the first time he made it to the state semifinals four years ago.

He started studying for his team’s next opponent, top-ranked Good Hope.

“When we played Good Hope, I thought they were the next best team,” Shellhouse said. “I had read newspaper articles, printed articles from the paper — probably about 20 articles.

“I knew everything about them from newspapers,” he said. “I talked to coaches about them. I even knew the (Nina) Mills’ religious back ground. I knew all about them.”

Andalusia went on to beat GHHS 62-54 behind a strong rebounding game from senior Shi’Amber Townsend, who had 27 points and 16 rebounds.

With that win, the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the state championship game for the first time since 2001, the last time AHS won the state title.

Jacksonville proved to be a tough opponent thanks to an impressive performance from Lacey Buchanon. Buchanon earned MVP honors at the tournament, and scored 29 points for JHS to help lead her team to a 63-54 victory over AHS.

What got the team to the state championship was a collective effort, Shellhouse said.

“I think each person recognized their role and accepted their role,” he said. “Alectricia Barnes was our shut-down defensive player. She reaked havoc on people. Shi’Amber knew that inside was where she was dominating. In years past, we had fluctuated her a lot in and out. This year, we made her that post presence we needed.

“Alison Daniles matured a lot in her basketball ability,” he said. “She became that extra long set of arms and extra athleticism you needed from a third guard. Tyleshia (Malcolm) became the shot-blocker and rebounder. She knew her role was to shoot those base-line jump shots.

“Alexis’ role changed a little bit from being the top-scorer to being a scorer and a distributor. A senior bench player coming off the bench Latrexius Trawick, she knew how to down a three-pointer for us.”

Andalusia will hold its annual spring sports banquet on Mon., March 26, in the Bulldog Bistro.